Happy employees have purpose – and purpose translates into profits

No great career ever started with a lack of self-belief. When we were building Sorbet, we understood that if our employees (whom we called citizens) believed that their purpose was to touch lives, then they would find meaning in their own lives and would strive to achieve bigger things. Rewards naturally follow this mindset, and financial security becomes a reality.


Finding a Higher Purpose informs how a business’s leadership team operates, how employees view their work and their lives, and how everyone interacts with – and serves – customers.


To begin, ask yourself and everyone in your organization these two key questions:


  • What is the purpose of life?
  • What is the purpose of work?

Then ask yourself this critical question, and be completely honest with yourself: Are you consumed by what you can put into life, or consumed by what you can get out of it?


Personally, I don’t believe that we were put on this earth simply to accumulate wealth. We can’t take it with us, and we can’t be fulfilled by it. Instead, our purpose is to positively touch the lives of others.


Living a life of purpose versus the ‘I Specialist’


Many years ago, I coined the term the ‘I Specialist’. In many decades of building teams and businesses, I have found that giving something a name gives it personality and helps everyone to articulate what it is, and when one’s behaviour is aligning with it (for better or worse).


This is particularly true of the ‘I Specialist’. The ‘I Specialist’ refers to a self-absorbed person who is in it for themselves. With this name, we can quickly pinpoint who is approaching their role and how they deal with customers and colleagues in this manner: Are they only focused on how much money or commission they make and what they get out of the business and their customers? Or, do they care about how their colleagues are doing, the business as a whole is doing, and most importantly, how their customers are doing based on their service?


Names also give your team a shared language – someone can say, ‘don’t be an ‘I Specialist’, or ‘that’s something an ‘I Specialist’ would do’, and their colleague will immediately know what they mean, and that perhaps they need to adjust their behaviour and attitude – provided everyone is in agreement on what their Higher Purpose should be.


I firmly believe that the purpose of life is to serve other people and not to make money. Please don’t misunderstand me. I also believe in businesses that are sustainable and make a profit. If your business isn’t making a profit, nobody wins. But profit should be the result – not the purpose.


This means that how you achieve profit has a lot to do with what you are trying to achieve, and for me, that is to make the lives of a business’s employees and customers better, which can only be realized if you serve others.


So, if you begin with the simple mantra ‘We are not in the business to make money, we are in the business to serve people,’ you already have the foundation for your Higher Purpose.


And here’s the secret: If you do that well, you will make lots of money. So will your employees, who will reap the rewards of their hard work, passion and service to others. But it all depends on where you start – what angle you’re coming at your business from.


Simply put, are you focused on quantity of customers and deals, or the quality of your service?


Find your why


Purpose is important, but a Higher Purpose is all about finding your reason for being, or your why. What drives you? When I first started articulating our Higher Purpose for Sorbet, I was heavily influenced by a number of individuals and books. The more I read about the concepts of people over profits and starting with your why, the more it resonated with me.


I began by asking myself some key questions:


  1. Do our leaders and customers believe what we believe?
  2. Do our guests believe what we believe? Do they even know what we believe? Are we getting our message into the market place?
  3. Do our leaders and citizens truly believe in our Higher Purpose?
  4. Do we all practice what we preach?
  5. How can we strengthen our Higher Purpose and strive for total buy-in across the business?

At Sorbet, we had reached a point where it became clear that we needed to re-establish the why of our business.


We were enjoying good growth and were building a successful well-known nationwide brand, but I wasn’t convinced that we were still on track with our purpose, and I believed that this had a lot to do with a shared understanding of our collective why (or lack thereof).


Without a clear Higher Purpose, our growth would eventually slow, or even derail completely, and we wouldn’t achieve the level of success and happiness for our employees that I believed we were capable of.


Profit focused versus people focused


Our work is inextricably linked to our lives, and so, to be fulfilled, we need to link the purpose of life to why we work – and how we approach the way we work.


Higher Purpose needs to touch your employees as much as it touches your customers. We have learnt that if you put your people first, you build a contented and engaged employee base. Without that, you will never really and truly touch the lives of your customers. It’s all one ecosystem.


In South Africa, this is even more important because of our high unemployment rates. How easy is it to slip into a state where you treat your employees like they are lucky to have work, instead of the other way around – that you are lucky they are giving you so many of their precious hours of each week?


Are those hours meaningful and enriching to them? How much happier would they be, and engaged, if they were?


What’s the opposite of the people-focused Higher Purpose? In a nutshell, it’s business owners and corporates that reconcile themselves to the belief that unhappy and discontented employees are an acceptable cost in the quest for profits.


They do not try to find a balance between people and profits. These tend to be top-down businesses that begin with the numbers.


Profit-focused businesses tend to share a number of the following qualities:


  • Heartless management
  • Limited or no compassion
  • A high staff turnover
  • People who feel they are just a number
  • No or limited staff loyalty
  • Politics and territorialism
  • A massive focus on budgets and short-term results
  • A fixation on the numbers that drives the wrong leadership behaviour
  • Too much concentration on mistakes and not enough on praise.

This is the extreme, but many businesses dance in this zone far more than they play in the purpose-led zone.


So, what does a people-based business look like? Communication, community, authenticity, vulnerability, understanding culture, putting people first, integrity, compassion, growth, sustainability, safety and a family environment all describe a business that puts its people first and embraces a shared Higher Purpose.


One of these two types of businesses will resonate with you, but there is an added benefit to a Higher Purpose-focused business: Translated into basic numbers, a 5% increase in employee satisfaction can lead to an increase in up to 20% in profits. Happy people who share a common goal and believe they are making a difference in the world perform better. It’s human nature.

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